West Philippine Sea

EU says new China coast guard rule adds to tensions, undermines UNCLOS

Bea Cupin

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EU says new China coast guard rule adds to tensions, undermines UNCLOS

FILE PHOTO. A China Coast Guard vessel maneuvers near Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Teresa Magbanua near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, Philippines, February 8, 2024.

Philippine Coast Guard/HANDOUT via REUTERS

(1st UPDATE) The bloc calls for 'restraint and full respect of the relevant international rules' following the tensest incident between the Philippines and China yet in the West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines – The European Union (EU) on Friday, June 21, criticized China’s new coast guard regulation, saying it “adds to tensions” and hinders the path to a “durable solution” of disputes in the South China Sea.

The EU issued the statement days after the tensest and most violent incident between Chinese and Filipino personnel in the West Philippine Sea, which left one Filipino personnel seriously hurt.

“China’s new ‘Coast Guard Regulation’ which entered into force on 15 June has added to tensions, rather than reducing them. This new Regulation mandates the detention of foreign persons and vessels throughout the entire area claimed by China, further negating the findings of the 2016 arbitral tribunal, and undermining core principles of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” the bloc said in a statement.

China continues to reject the 2016 Arbitral Ruling, which deemed invalid its sweeping claim of most of the South China Sea. China has doubled down on its claim on waters it considers it own, including the South China Sea.

“The EU believes that such unilateral measures make it more difficult to achieve a durable solution to disputes in the South China Sea and increase the risk of dangerous confrontation.”

“Dangerous collisions are occurring with increasing regularity in the South China Sea, adding to a steady escalation of tensions, which must be defused rather than prolonged. The EU therefore reiterates its longstanding call for restraint and full respect of the relevant international rules, to ensure the peaceful resolution of differences and reduction of tensions in the region,” it added.

Days after the new rule kicked in, on June 17, China Coast Guard (CCG) personnel harassed Filipino forces on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, in what has been the most tense incident between the two countries to date.

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The Philippines was conducting a regular rotation and resupply mission to bring provisions and rotate personnel aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, a warship that was run aground in 1999 and has since served as a military outpost in the shoal. The CCG repeatedly rammed at the rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) of the Philippine Navy.

Footage from the Philippine military have also showed CCG personnel wielding bladed weapons, using loud sirens, and even throwing rock at Filipino soldiers already moored beside the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

EU says new China coast guard rule adds to tensions, undermines UNCLOS

China also towed one of the RHIBs, puncturing its tube and purposefully damaging equipment on board. One Filipino soldier lost his thumb during the melee, as China’s RHIBs and steel hulled boats rammed the Philippine Navy ships relentlessly.

In a statement released Friday, June 21 (June 20 in Berlin), Germany’s Federal Foreign Office said the German government was “watching China’s behavior in the South China Sea with great concern,” calling the images and videos from the AFP of the incident “disturbing.” 

“The incident occurred in the sea areas around Second Thomas Shoal, which are part of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone according to the 2016 arbitration award under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is binding on China and the Philippines,” said Berlin. 

The European Union member-country added: “Dangerous and irresponsible maneuvers and actions such as the incident last Monday are contrary to UNCLOS and increase the risk of further escalation.” 

“Germany will continue to work together with international partners for the comprehensive enforcement of UNCLOS, for freedom of navigation, for peaceful dispute settlement and for the maintenance of peace and stability,” Germany said. 

During a January 2024 visit to Manila, Germany’s foreign affairs minister Annalena Baerbock warned of “rough winds blowing across the South China Sea.” 

Tensions between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea, an area within the South China Sea that includes Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), have been increasing in the past year.

Even before the June 17 incident, China has been routinely harassing and trying to block Philippine mission to flashpoints in the West Philippine Sea – in Ayungin and Panatag Shoal, especially.

The Philippines has made it policy to expose Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea.

China maintains territorial sovereignty claims over the Spratly Islands or Nansha Islands as a whole, including the reefs, islets and shoals there. – Rappler.com


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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.